Strengthening Whistleblower Protections: Lessons from NSW Councils

 The results of a whistleblowing audit of six New South Wales councils revealed some troubling findings

Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of any well-functioning council or agency. One essential aspect of maintaining transparency is protecting whistleblowers, individuals who step forward to report misconduct or wrongdoing within their workplace. In a recent article from Inside Local Government, the results of a whistleblowing audit of six New South Wales (NSW) councils revealed some troubling findings. The report, conducted by the Ombudsman, underscores the need for better whistleblower protection mechanisms and emphasises the critical role of training in handling Public Interest Disclosures (PIDs).

Lack of Sufficient Training

The audit of the six NSW councils brought several key issues to light. One of the most concerning findings was the lack of sufficient training for those staff responsible for assessing and handling PIDs. According to the Ombudsman, “It is therefore of particular concern that we found that no audited council had provided sufficient training on assessing and handling PIDs to all staff with PID responsibilities.”

This lack of training can have serious consequences. Handling PIDs requires a deep understanding of the legal framework, ethical considerations, and the potential risks involved. Without proper training, staff members responsible for assessing and handling PIDs may inadvertently mishandle or ignore legitimate disclosures, putting both the whistleblower and the organisation at risk.

None of the councils had a system in place to ensure that staff with PID responsibilities received timely training

Furthermore, the Ombudsman pointed out that none of the councils had a system in place to ensure that staff with PID responsibilities received timely training. According to the report, there was no mechanism to ensure that staff members in these roles were trained within three months of commencing their duties, nor was there any provision for regular refresher training. This gap in training and accountability raises serious concerns about the councils’ ability to effectively and ethically manage whistleblowing cases.

Whistleblower protections play a pivotal role in maintaining organisational integrity and public trust. When employees witness misconduct or wrongdoing, they should feel empowered and safe to come forward and report their concerns. Robust whistleblower protection mechanisms not only protect those who speak out but also help organisations identify and rectify issues before they escalate into major crises.

Properly trained staff are essential in ensuring that whistleblowers’ concerns are addressed effectively and in compliance with the law. Training equips staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to assess the credibility of PIDs, conduct thorough investigations, and maintain confidentiality throughout the process.

Recommendations for Improvement

It is clear that councils must take immediate action

In light of the audit’s findings, it is clear that councils must take immediate action to strengthen their whistleblower protection mechanisms. The Ombudsman’s report provides an opportunity for councils to reevaluate their approach to handling PIDs. Here are some recommendations for improvement:

  • Comprehensive Training: Councils should prioritise comprehensive training programs for all staff responsible for assessing and handling PIDs. This training should cover legal obligations, ethical considerations, best practices in handling disclosures, and the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
  • Timely Training: Implement a system to ensure that staff members with PID responsibilities receive training within three months of assuming their roles. This ensures that those responsible for managing whistleblowing cases are well-prepared from the outset.
  • Regular Refresher Training: Whistleblower protection is an evolving field, and laws and best practices can change over time. Regular refresher training will help staff stay up-to-date with the latest developments in this area.
  • Clear Reporting Mechanisms: Establish clear and accessible channels for reporting PIDs. Whistleblowers should have confidence in the system and believe that their concerns will be taken seriously.
  • Independent Oversight: Consider involving independent oversight bodies or ombudsmen to ensure the impartial handling of PIDs and to enhance public trust in the process.

The recent whistleblowing audit of six NSW councils serves as a stark reminder of the importance of whistleblower protection mechanisms. It underscores the need for comprehensive training for staff responsible for assessing and handling PIDs and highlights the crucial role they play in maintaining transparency and accountability within organisations.

Moving forward, it is imperative that councils take the necessary steps to strengthen their whistleblower protection mechanisms. By doing so, they not only protect the rights of whistleblowers but also ensure that their operations remain ethical, transparent, and accountable to the public they serve. The lessons learned from this audit should serve as a catalyst for positive change in how organisations across the board handle whistleblowing cases.

GRC Solutions Resources

Councils looking to enhance their whistleblower protection mechanisms and ensure that staff are well-equipped to handle Public Interest Disclosures (PIDs) effectively should consider implementing the GRC Solutions course on Public Interest Disclosures. This course offers a tailored approach to PID training. It covers legal frameworks, best practices, and ethical considerations, providing learners with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complex landscape of whistleblowing.

Module 1: Public interest disclosures

For managers and general staff

  • The importance of disclosing wrongdoing
  • What can be reported and who can report it
  • Types of disclosures under the Act
  • The process surrounding voluntary public interest disclosures
  • Protections for whistleblowers

Module 2: Dealing with disclosures

For managers

  • Managerial obligations and disclosure reception
  • How to identify various disclosure types
  • How to deal with and refer disclosures
  • Public interest disclosure policies
  • Risk management requirements regarding voluntary disclosures

Available at